Guest Contributors

Book Review: Beyond Smells & Bells by Mark Galli

Written by The Rev’d Dr. Timothy R. Brophy

Beyond Smells & Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy by Mark Galli is a wonderful introduction to Christian liturgy written specifically for three diverse groups of people:

1) “those who find themselves attracted to liturgy but don’t know quite why”;

2) “those immersed in liturgy and want to think more deeply about it”; and

3) “those who wonder if it is worth committing themselves to a liturgical church” (Galli, 2008a, 9).  

Unlike Chan’s Liturgical Theology, the subject of an earlier book review, Beyond Smells & Bells is written at the level of the average Evangelical Christian in America, and does not require much theological or liturgical background.  In fact, this is the kind of audience Mark Galli is most accustomed to addressing. As senior managing editor of Christianity Today and member of Church of the Resurrection in Glen Ellyn, Illinois (ACNA/formerly AMiA), he is uniquely suited to bridge the evangelical/liturgical gap with this kind of book.  All these factors make Beyond Smells & Bells a particularly valuable resource for those attending (or planting) Anglican churches in both evangelical and post-Christian communities across America.  In fact, I’ve used Beyond Smells & Bells for a book study at Church of the Good Shepherd in Lynchburg, VA, a small Anglican community in the heart of Baptist country, dominated by people “who wonder if it is worth committing themselves to a liturgical church” (Galli, 2008a, 9).

Beyond Smells & Bells is composed of 142 pages divided into an introduction, 14 “bite-sized” chapters, and three very helpful appendices.  In the next several pages, I would like to give a basic overview of these chapters and highlight a few portions of the book that I have found particularly helpful in my Anglican church-planting context.  I’d also like to give a basic overview of A Companion Guide to Beyond Smells & Bells by Mark Galli (2008b) which, as its title suggests, was written to accompany Galli’s main work and which I have also used as part of a book study at Church of the Good Shepherd.

Each of the chapters in Beyond Smells & Bells are easily digestible, consisting of approximately 15 pages each, and cover helpful topics such as:

  • the basic shape of liturgy (Ch. 1 and Appendix A);
  • liturgy as transformer of person, place, and time (Ch. 2, 7, 8, 12 & Appendix C);
  • community aspects of liturgy: intimacy with God & neighbor (Ch. 3 & 4);
  • the mysterious and sacramental aspects of liturgy (Ch. 5 & 10);
  • liturgy as guide to grace and faith (Ch. 9 & 11);
  • the cultural relevance of liturgy (Ch. 6), and;
  • the imaginative and poetic character of liturgy (Ch. 13 &14).  

Galli says he wrote Beyond Smells & Bells for those in or exploring Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic churches.  Appendix B is one of the most interesting and helpful portions of the entire book. In it he gives, in parallel, the major parts of the Eucharistic service from each of these five liturgical traditions.  This eye-opening chart betrays the common and ancient roots of these western denominations. While Galli claims to be writing for those in all these liturgical traditions, his viewpoint and examples are obviously influenced by Anglican liturgies, most specifically the 1979 Book of Common Prayer from the Episcopal Church (USA).  This bias, however, makes Beyond Smells & Bells even more appropriate for an Anglican church-planting setting.

Even though the core group at Church of the Good Shepherd is composed of those still undecided about the Anglican liturgical tradition, several “find themselves attracted to liturgy but don’t know quite why” (Galli, 2008a, 9).  These individuals were drawn to the book study and are finding Galli’s Companion Guide to Beyond Smells & Bells most helpful as they explore the ancient treasures of the Christian tradition.  The bulk of this second book is dedicated to conversation starters, intended for use in a small group setting, corresponding to each of the major chapters in Galli’s main work.  I found these to be extremely thought-provoking and helpful as I read this companion guide. Its helpfulness has already been confirmed “in the field” as the participants in the book study also found it stimulating.  But these conversation starters are just one small part of the Companion Guide’s overall value, for it also contains bona-fide liturgical resources and a guide to the “visual liturgy.”  So this is not just a book about liturgy, it also contains parts of the actual liturgy. While these are helpful and include prayers and scripture readings, there is no substitute for exposing those attracted to liturgy to the “full-blown” liturgies of their tradition.  In fact, I decided to buy a Book of Common Prayer (1979 ECUSA) for each member of our book study.  The guide to “visual liturgy” explains things like the processional, clergy vestments, reverencing the altar, making the sign of the cross, gestures at communion, and various other things one might see during a liturgical service.  This section has been very helpful indeed.

I would like to finish this book review by focusing on two sections of Beyond Smells & Bells that have been particularly helpful to me, both in my personal liturgical journey and as a church-planter in Lynchburg, VA.  I really enjoyed Galli’s chapter on sacramental theology (Ch. 10 – “We Worship a Material Savior: Why the Liturgy Engages the Whole Body”).  In it, as the title implies, he explains how a sacramental view of reality is an essential part of our worship of the One who became flesh and dwelt among us.  He goes on to point out the necessity of whole-bodied worship that can be found in many liturgical traditions: “We cannot worship a material Savior without the material.  So how do we worship the one who made himself like us in every respect? We make our worship to be like him in every respect: We traffic in the bodily senses, the five organs through which reality comes to those who dwell in flesh and blood: We observe the symbols of the faith; we hear the Word; we smell the prayers of incense; we touch and taste the sacramental life” (Galli, 2008a, 83).  And finally, I have been feeling personally shaped by the liturgy over the course of the last several years. This has come primarily through submitting myself to the rhythm of daily, weekly, and seasonal prayer found in the Book of Common Prayer but has found its expression in books like Chan’s Liturgical Theology and Galli’s Beyond Smells & Bells.  These books have given me the language to help explain to myself and others the process that I’ve been engaged in naturally.  Beyond Smells & Bells has been particularly helpful as I attempt to articulate this to those I’m leading at Church of the Good Shepherd.

Beyond Smells & Bells by Mark Galli is a wonderful entry-level book on Christian liturgy.  It paints an exciting picture of the hidden treasures afforded us by the various liturgical traditions.  Galli’s knowledge of and excitement for liturgy, coupled with his easy-to-read style, make this a “must read” for all those interested in exploring the liturgical elements of the western church.  This book has been especially valuable to me as an Anglican church-planter in a Baptist environment. Galli does a marvelous job of bridging the evangelical/liturgical gap (which can seem very large at times), and I plan to use his books for many years to come as I introduce the people of Lynchburg, VA to the wonders of Christian liturgy.

 

Works Cited

Chan, Simon.  Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community.  Downers Grove,

IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2006.

Galli, Mark.  Beyond Smells & Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy.  Brewster,

MA:  Paraclete Press, 2008a.

Galli, Mark.  A Companion Guide to Beyond Smells & Bells: The Wonder and Power of

Christian Liturgy.  Brewster, MA:  Paraclete Press, 2008b.

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